Well, it been a really tough week for Israelis, with just one bright spot at the end. The Coronavirus is still the biggest problem here and a record heatwave all but forced everyone indoors all of the time. But at least it ended with a new diplomatic success with two European nations, Kosovo and Serbia.
Israel broke the 1,000 death mark from Covid-19. That might not sound like much, and it is only a fraction of the per capita deaths in the United States to date, but Israel is a small country. In total, 439 people were listed in serious condition as of Saturday night. And of them, there are 128 people on ventilators in Israel due to Covid-19.
101,478 Israelis are listed as having recovered from the virus. So the total numbers of all of those who died or who were sick come to about 1.25% of the total population. Again, for a small country, that figure is a really big deal.
And Israel’s government has been on the brink over just how to deal with the recent increase in Corona Virus infections. The medical community – meaning those who know what they are talking about – would like to see a total shutdown over the holidays. This would mean no synagogue services – even on Yom Kippur – and no places of entertainment open where they ordinarily remain open on Shabbat and holidays to cater to the secular community.
Religious people, as well as the majority of non-Orthodox Israelis who fast and attend services in some way on Yom Kippur and go to a synagogue to hear the shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah, are worried about a possible synagogue closure. They were all closed over the Passover holiday six months ago. And a closure would also mean that all inter-city roads would be shut to traffic starting at a certain time before the start of a given holiday until sometime the day after it ends. This would be to stop people from traveling to visit relatives.
And the inability to visit with loved ones, even on any given week day, out of fear of spreading the Corona Virus has been dispiriting, to say the least, for people the world over.
Meanwhile, the Hassidic sect the Batslavers, as well as a large number of people who independently follow the teachings of the group’s late Rebbe, are furious that Ukraine has closed its borders. Rebbe Nachman died 200 years ago and is buried in the Ukrainian city of Uman. Tens of thousands of people – including thousands from Israel – travel to Uman every year for the Rosh Hashanah holiday. They do so because they believe that if they pray for forgiveness close to his grave he will ensure their place in Heaven.
When Israeli officials hinted at prohibiting travel to Ukraine over fears that the pilgrimage would cause a spread of Covid-19 with all of those people from around the world congregating together in small places, there was a political backlash. The leaders of the Ashkenazic Haredi party United Tora Judaism threatened to quit the coalition.
Then the Ukrainian government said that it would be closing its borders as of September 1. Then it was reported that the Ukrainian President said that he was asked to do so by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Everyone believed this as it was easy for them to imagine Netanyahu doing just that.
And over the past week, Israelis saw footage on the news of ultra-orthodox Jews being harassed in Ukraine. Many who made it to the airport there before the ban went into effect were forcibly detained. The images shocked the Israeli public. They showed Jews being assaulted by Ukrainians. Ukrainians were not exactly helpful to Jews during the Holocaust.
And then there is the heatwave. And what a heatwave. Records were broken across the country. The Red Sea City of Elat reached a record of 120 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday. And the capital Jerusalem hit a record 109 degrees the same day. This came after a full week of 90 degrees plus heat nationwide. And the heatwave will continue through this week.
The extensive use of air conditioning caused power outages in some places.
On the bright side, Serbia agreed to move its embassy to Jerusalem. And the mostly Muslim nation of Kosovo not only opened diplomatic ties with Israel but it also agreed to place its embassy in Jerusalem.